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I’ve said it before — and this is pretty groundbreaking stuff guys — but The Big Island is big. So big, in fact, that Heather and I often felt our butts go numb from hours logged in the car. While we were staying somewhere between Volcano and Hilo, we quite literally drove all the way around the island — from Kona to Hanoka’a to Mauna Kea to Puna.

However, credit for turning that road time from an annoyance into entertainment goes to our cherry-red Jeep Wrangler rental. Renting a 4WD meant we had the flexibility to stop wherever and whenever we liked — time permitting, of course (and never did I feel shorter on time than on The Big Island!). In this two-part post, I’m highlighting some of the attractions and roadside stops that kept us entertained as we hopped between volcanoes and manta rays. Often, these short stops were some of our favorite memories.

Big Island Jeep Rental

As you can see, even between stops  we logged plenty of fun time in our Jeep — we even slept in it one night. You can find tons of footage from our never-ending road trip in my Big Island video.

Big Island Jeep Rental

Big Island Jeep Rental

Sleeping in a Rental Car

1. Punalu’u Beach Park

When my parents visited the same family friend Heather and I were staying with years before, they had texted me photos of sea turtles on a black sand beach. I was blown away by how lucky they were to spot such rare creatures up close and personal!

Then, I found out about Punalu’u Beach Park and realized they weren’t quite as lucky as I had believed. This beach almost guarantees sightings of the endangered turtles — we spotted three while we were there, and that is apparently a bad day. Hawaiian green sea turtles take part in an unusual turtle activity called basking; where they simply lie on the black sand and absorb the sun. Once we got over our giddiness at these beautiful animals and how totally unfazed they were by us, we turned out attention to another unusual feature of the beach — the blackest sand I’ve ever run my fingers through.

Punalu'u Beach Park

Punalu'u Beach Park

Punalu'u Beach Park

Punalu'u Beach ParkPhoto by

Punalu'u Beach Park

Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip

Punalu'u Beach ParkPhoto by

Punalu'u Beach ParkPhoto by

Punalu'u Beach ParkPhoto by

Pulling out of Punalu’u and heading West towards Kona, we did a major double take in the midst of a long stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. “Heather, turn around. I just saw a zebra.” She was skeptical, but acquiesced. We were rewarded with not just a zebra but also a donkey and a bison — my high school mascot! Luckily, Heather had dressed for the occasion.

Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip

Big Island ZebraPhoto by

2. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park

This National Historic Park might not have caught my eye had  not named it as one of the top ten Big Island experiences (loyal readers know I’m a confessed Lonely Planet junkie). I’m so glad it did, because this little side-trip provided a good dose of Hawaiian history, a heaping serving of beautiful scenery, and a good measure of silly fun.

Using a dial-in cell phone walking tour, the park teaches visitors about the ancient Hawaiian taboo system called kapu — a class structure that strictly ruled over ever facet of life. Kapu violators faced the ultimate punishment — death. The only way to escape that fatal verdict was to reach the sacred sanctuary grounds of the pu’uhonua by swimming through dangerous open ocean, fending off strong currents and sharks. If they reached the sanctuary, the same ground we were standing on, they were absolved of their crimes and could return to normal life. This went on less than 100 years ago — the pu’uhonua here was only abandoned in 1819.

The .5 miles walking tour brought us to ancient sites, showed us ancient games played by Hawaiian royalty, and led us through palm groves and by tide pools.

Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National ParkPhoto by

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National ParkPhoto by

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National ParkPhotos above and below by

Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National ParkPhoto by

3. Puako Petroglyph Preserve

This stopover was in the pursuit of one of the largest collections of ancient lava carvings in Hawaii — and it was a comedy of errors. Turning off of the main highway and driving through a labyrinth of resorts, we followed signs for the Petroglyph trail. Arriving in the dusty parking lot, we were hopelessly stumped — the signs seemed to disappear and a lone resort map provided no assistance. We followed a trail that hugged the coast for a while before reaching a local family who when we asked for help kindly led us to one petroglyph — one. Considering there were supposed to be around 3,000, we finally caught on that we were not in the right place.

Arriving back at the parking lot, we discovered the real trail, which we had to admit was pretty obviously located right in front of us. The only explanation, we decided, was that the trail had gone into a mysterious black hole when we were looking for it previously.

Puako Petroglyph PreservePhoto by

Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip
Big Island Road Trip

Puako Petroglyph PreservePhoto by

Puako Petroglyph PreservePhoto by

Puako Petroglyph Preserve

To Be Continued!

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24 Comments...
  • OMG the turtle shots are to-die-for, like magazine worthy! Your friend is so talented!!! What an epic road trip!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 14 2012

      I know, she’s amazing! I’m actually going to ask her if I can get those printed on canvas someday when I have an apartment.

  • Erica
    December 14 2012

    Those pictures are gorgeous! I didn’t realize Hawaii had sand that black, it almost looks fake! Looks like you two had a ton of fun, can’t wait to read the next post.

    ps: good luck at the color run this weekend 🙂
    Erica recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 16 2012

      The Color Run was AMAZING! More fun than I could have imagined… can’t wait to share photos!

  • Gaelyn
    December 14 2012

    You sure packed a lot of adventures into this trip. Side trips usually bring the unexpected.
    Gaelyn recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 16 2012

      I agree! I had a lot of fun renting a car. Unfortunately it’s basically impossible for me to do in most places because of my age… so thankfully I had Heather 🙂

  • Greg Prohl
    December 14 2012

    Lovely photos, I like how many of them you put up here and also lots of text to go with them. That’s how I like to do it, too, a nice mix of info and visuals. Fantastic shots on the black sand beach. My wife and I did Kauai last Jan. but the Big Island is in my sights for our next Hawaiian sojourn. Happy Trails
    Greg Prohl recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 16 2012

      I really enjoyed the Big Island but if I could do it again I would do the entire trip as one big road trip and circumnavigate the island staying in a different place each night. It’s too big to do any other way!

  • Shaun
    December 15 2012

    Diggin the photos of the sea turtles!

    • Meihoukai
      December 16 2012

      Heather did a great job! I like my video footage better than my photos though 🙂

  • nicole
    January 29 2013

    Hello! I love your Hawaii posts! I’d love to link your site on my Hawaiian blog if it’s okay with you?


    nicole 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      January 30 2013

      Hi Nicole, of course, feel free to link away! And thank you 🙂

  • Jessica @Triple T Travels
    October 6 2015

    I love Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park it is a super cool place. Did you guys go to the Southern tip and cliff jump? Can’t wait to read more! 🙂
    Jessica @Triple T Travels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 8 2015

      No, we didn’t do any cliff jumping on this trip! Sounds like we’ll have to go back!

  • Sharon
    November 3 2015

    did you write about the whole road trip on HI big island? We hope to go to HI next year and am wondering what the big island is like and if we should go there. I really want to see the volcano, too.

    • Meihoukai
      November 4 2015

      I did! You can find all my Big Island posts here, Sharon 🙂

  • Martin
    January 15 2018

    Hey:)! Is there second part as for the big island:)? I cannot find/see it anywhere:)! Thx

  • Anne
    May 10 2018

    This will be really helpful since I’m moving to the Big Island for 6 months for a wildlife research job, looking forward to hitting up all of these places!

    • Meihoukai
      May 12 2018

      Ah, you’re going to have so much fun! What are you researching?!

      • Anne
        May 12 2018

        Going to be studying the behavior of endangered birds being released back into the wild!